(Reuters) - Eight Turkish soldiers captured last month by Kurdish guerrillas were released in northern Iraq on Sunday, a move which could ease public pressure on Turkey's government to launch a major cross-border incursion.
The release of the soldiers came a day after the Iraqi government vowed to hunt down Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants responsible for raids into Turkey.
Washington has urged NATO-ally Turkey to refrain from sending in thousands of troops, saying it could destabilise northern Iraq and cause a bigger regional crisis.
President George W. Bush is due to discuss the situation with Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Washington on Monday.
"The eight soldiers in question returned (to) the Turkish Armed Forces on November 4," the chief of staff's Web site said. Turkish TV said the soldiers flew home in a military plane and talked to their families by phone after landing.
"The release of the Turkish soldiers is a significant move in reducing the tension," said Britain's defence secretary, who just returned from a visit to Iraq, including Iraqi Kurdistan.
"This is, though, only a first step. We need to see concrete measures taken by the Iraqi Kurdish officials to curtail the activities of the PKK," Des Browne said.
Turkey wants leaders of the PKK arrested and the closure of camps in Iraq used as bases for cross-border attacks in their 23-year campaign for a homeland in southeastern Turkey.